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High school girls basketball: Lealani Falatea’s clutch 4th quarter powers Herriman into 1st 6A title game

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Herriman’s Lealani Falatea (3) celebrates with teammates after beating Lone Peak in the 6A girls basketball state semifinals at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The Lone Peak Knights’ season came full circle Thursday afternoon at the hands of the Herriman Mustangs.

After starting their season with a loss to Herriman, their season concluded with yet another loss to the Mustangs in the first 6A state semifinal game.

Herriman’s Lealani Falatea scored a game-high 24 points, 10 of which came in a two-minute stretch during the fourth quarter, which helped the Mustangs claim their first ever berth in the 6A state title game with a 54-46 win.

Falatea said her clutch performance in the fourth quarter was a result of her and her teammates making an effort to play a faster game.

“I felt like we were playing at their pace and we needed to go back to our game,” said Falatea. “We prefer to play fast because we got a lot of fast girls on our team.”

Attempts to play at a faster pace paid off and resulted in Herriman gaining an 11-2 advantage in fast break points.

Herriman head coach Kent Smith attributed much of the team’s success to four quarters of strong defensive play. The Mustang defense made life difficult for Lone Peak sophomore Kailey Woolston, who was coming into the game as one of the best scorers in the state.

“As soon as they gained possession of the ball, somebody different was running straight to (Woolston),” Smith said. “She’s as good as we’ve got in our state, so we knew we had to keep her from getting touches, and for the most part we did a good job containing her.”

Woolston, who finished with 15 points, still played a big role in keeping her team in the game. After trailing for the majority of the game, Woolston buried a 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter and followed the shot up with an impressive chase down block to keep her team within three points on what appeared to be a wide open layup for Herriman.

But Woolston and her teammates’ efforts to contain Falatea and the Mustangs failed when Falatea’s 10-point fourth quarter outburst gave Herriman a 12-point lead, its biggest lead of the game, and Lone Peak was unable to recover.

Smith said that despite his team entering the championship game as the No. 1 seed, players still feel like they are the underdogs.

“Every coach in the final four has won a championship game but me, so I’m kind of the newcomer and I’m just trying to keep up,” Smith said with a chuckle.

Smith acknowledged that his team has their work cut out for them in the championship game against Fremont on Saturday, especially when it comes to his team’s ability to control the glass.

Lone Peak outrebounded Herriman 36-33.

“We’ve got to rebound,” stressed Smith. “Fremont are giants. If we rebound, we’re going to be in every game late because we can shoot it pretty well.”

Herriman, which set a state record in the regular season with 203 made 3-pointers, will likely need to shoot a touch better in the title game than the 30% it shot against Lone Peak if it wants to counter Fremont’s size differential.

Falatea gave a very calm and nonchalant response when asked how she and her team were going to prepare for arguably the biggest game of their lives.

“We’re going to go home and do our homework,” she said, “and we’re just going to play our game.”